Shivering Timbers – A Family Affair

Mist clouded the lush hills of Cincinnati’s Price Hill district as I walked toward the blue station wagon that serves as Shivering Timbers’ tour bus.

“Sorry we’re late – we got lost in over there in Gummo land,” Sarah said as she slammed the door of the car.  Her voice has a lilting quality to it, common to many singers.

She saw me staring at her shoes, which looked about three sizes too big.

“I was wearing sandals when we left Akron, but then it started raining so Jayson gave me his shoes.”

Lead singer Sarah Benn and guitarist Jayson Benn are married.  They are both tall and look vaguely Nordic.  Bearded drummer Brad Thorla – no relation – describes himself as “the weird Uncle Jesse.”

Jayson and Sarah met at a show in Akron – Brad was bartending and Sarah was talking to one of Jayson’s friends,

“But he was…..strange,” said Sarah, “so Jayson butted in.”

“I said, ‘hey, I’m drunk.'”

“And now we’re married.” Sarah said.  They have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences.

“Being married in a band is tough sometimes,” said Jayson, “because even if we have disagreements, at the end of the day – we’re still married.”

“I like being in a band with my husband.” Sarah said.  “I wouldn’t want to do this if it was just a band of friends.  It means something this way.  It’s one of our marriage projects.”

“Instead of her telling me to cut the grass – like a normal wife – she tells me to practice my guitar,” said Jayson. “It’s awesome.”

“Buy the amp, forget the mortgage,” added Brad.

The couple has a 3-year-old daughter named Suzi.  When she gets older they hope to bring her along for shows.  In the meantime, she stays with Jayson’s mother in Akron when the band travels out of town.  She comes along in spirit though- they keep a family photo album on their merch table for fans to peruse.  Suzi’s becoming something of a musician herself.  Not surprising, considering her gene pool.

‘The other day Suzi was just hammering away on her little piano and it sounded so cool,” said Sarah.

“We want to steal her songs, but she might sue us for it when she gets older,” said Jayson.

Jayson pulled out his phone so he could show me his ringtone.  He handed me the phone and Sarah called it.  I saw Sarah’s photo appear on the screen along with the words ‘Sarah Smile.’  The ringtone was Suzi playing a harmonica.

“She’s good, isn’t she?” he asked me.  I nodded in agreement.

“We do abscond with her toy instruments though,” said Brad, “we use her bells and her piano at our shows and on our record.”

When Brad plays Suzi’s toy piano onstage it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘baby grand.’

The band recorded their first album after Sarah gave birth to Suzi.  We All Started In The Same Place sounds like a Dr. Suess-ish, prayer-like meditation on the childhood of Edgar Allan Poe.  The band is still working on material for a new album.

“We have enough songs for another album,” said Jayson, “but we want to let the new songs germinate first and wait for Dan (Auerbach).”  Auerbach, singer and guitarist for The Black Keys, produced Shivering Timbers’ first album in 2010.

“Our new stuff is a lot darker, it has more gravitas,” said Sarah, “I like to sing murder ballads, and songs about people’s day of reckoning – in the gospel tradition, not in the ‘sell your soul to the devil’ type of way.  I like to take gospel songs and give them darkness, so that it shakes you, the way it’s meant to be.  I’m kind of a lyrical scavenger.”

Shivering Timbers used to play all sorts of instruments when the band consisted of only Jayson and Sarah, to the point where it took a full hour to set up for a half-hour show.  With the addition of Brad on drums, they started stripping down their sound for their sophomore album, which is sure to be more abrasive and adult than their first.

When I finally heard them play, their new sound blew me away. Shivering Timbers are what would happen if you locked Grace Slick in a room with only Cranberries records and Led Zeppelin IV – and forced her eyes open to read William Faulkner’s entire bibliography.

Sarah’s haunting siren-song chills to the bone.  It’s obvious where the name ‘Shivering Timbers’ comes from – her voice will give you goosebumps.  She sings without effort, from a wise, dark place inside her soul.  Jayson had confided in me earlier that her voice was one of the reasons he fell in love with her.

After two songs she acknowledged the audience.

“By the way…hi.”

The crowd laughed and the band tore into the rest of their set, flirting with the blues and verging on the psychedelic.  Their songs build until they reach an epic crescendo – and Rock’n’roll is born.  Jayson shreds with a shape-shifting dissonance that channels the best of Jimmy Page.  Brad’s drumming is sparse, yet elegant in its precision.  This is the kind of music you listen to when you rock your darlin’ to sleep on a sweaty porch in New Orleans.  Spooky.  Banshee-Folk.  Their album could provide the soundtrack for an entire episode of True Blood.  When the set was over, I wanted more.

After the show I sat with the band at the bar and they invited me to a party.  But I was tired and the drive back to Dayton is a long one.  Plus I didn’t want to overstay my welcome.  I knew I would see them again when they play at South Park Tavern on May 27.

As I walked out of the bar, I stopped and looked back.  It was like seeing old friends again and then having to part ways once more.


The Art of War and Absurdities

I’m about to get political.

This is your last chance to turn back.

Stop reading.

On the same day that Guided By Voices played in Dayton for the first time in nearly a decade, President Obama got up to some antics of his own.

He didn’t have time that day to review budget proposals.  The weather prevented him from playing golf.  Instead he set up his NCAA Final Four bracket and announced a new war in Libya.

My cognitive dissonance was so great, I thought I was hallucinating.

During the 2008 campaign, I believed Obama was the last chance for peace in our time.  I was among his most fervent converts in Columbus.  I even volunteered for the Democratic party.  His words were those of a peacemaker – promising to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq if we elected him.  That unforgettable “Hope” campaign poster by Shepard Fairey – so reminiscent of Soviet Propaganda – burned itself into my subconscious.

I can remember sitting on my stoop on Lane Ave., smoking a cigarette after the news announced his victory – elated – thinking Americans could at last redeem ourselves after eight years of Bush the Terrible.

I even got laid that night.

When I came down from cloud nine, I realized just how naive I was.  I stared at Obama’s cabinet picks on my computer screen and awakened from my innocent slumber –

Nothing was going to change.

And nothing has changed.  Three years later and soldiers still die everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Innocent civilians are still collateral damage.  The economy got worse.  They sold us the sourest lemon – and we bought it.

Obama’s begun starting new wars in Libya and Pakistan – but no one cares.  Even the Democrats refuse to criticize his “Overseas Contingency Operations” – the Orwellian bastardization of Bush’s “War on Terror.”  Say what you may about our former president – he didn’t mince words.  The evil bastard was as frank as John Wayne – I gotta give him that.

Nope – the real news for Americans – Obama’s Final Four picks.  Sports and beer.  Bread and circuses.  While Americans sat glued to their glow-boxes, bombs ravaged the deserts of Libya, indiscriminate in their extreme prejudice.  And I stood against the stage at the greatest rock’n’roll show of my life.  Lost in the sea of bodies.

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage,
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.

So we find ourselves adrift in our Idiocracy – the most blatant human rights offenses go unchallenged by Americans.  Keep the beer flowing.  Keep the fans cheering.  Americans are alienated from ourselves and from humanity.  War only exists on TV for our entertainment.  Are you not entertained?  Are you not entertained?

You can only kick the can so far down the road before it slips into the sewer.

If Obama (or Bush for that matter) had consulted that tiny book of ancient wisdom, The Art of War by Sun-Tzu, he might have seen the err of his ways and avoided our current predicament.

Sun-Tzu had some sage advice…

“If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain.”

“There is no evidence of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

“Contributing to an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.”

“When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated, while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.”

“In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”

Our situation is absurd.  The elephant is taking a shit in the middle of the room.  Americans refuse to see it.  We’d rather close our eyes and pretend elephant shit is gold.

The people of our nation are burdened with insurmountable debt, and higher and higher taxes and inflation brought to you by the US Dept. of Defense and the Federal Reserve.

I’m not about to debate the morality of war.  I’m questioning the logic of  this war.  Cost-benefit analysis.  People argue that the situation is out of Obama’s control, that it is too complicated, that he can’t just pull all the troops out.  In fact, it is all within his control – he is the Commander-in-Chief.  The blood runs on Pilate’s hands, and his alone.

The economy is bad for one reason – the endless war.  Until he ends it – the economy will never improve.

Good night, and good luck.

Aaron Burr: Portrait of a Bad Ass M*****F*****

Aaron Burr was a great American.  Possibly the greatest.

Motherfucker tried to start his own country and crown himself king.  What could be more American than declaring yourself king of your own domain?

He was a goddamn prodigy – he started college at Princeton when he was only 13.

His home was on fucking Wall Street.

He freed his own slave.

Burr believed in women’s lib before the term was coined.  Actually he coined the term but was quickly silenced by Hamilton, the rat. He educated his daughter as if she were his son, and she went on to have great professional success.

Washington tried to make Burr a part of his administrative staff during the revolution.  Burr quit after 2 weeks to go back to the battlefield – told them pussies to suck it.

Burr saved an entire brigade once.  Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s toadie, was among those he saved.  Washington failed to commend him for it.  Burr told Washington to suck it.

Washington promoted Hamilton to General instead of Burr – an unforgivable slight for such a badass.

Burr told them both to suck it and became Vice Prez under Jefferson, the most badass president in history.  They actually tied in the electoral vote – but Hamilton, the fucking prick, used his influence to make sure Burr only ascended to VP.

Burr told Hamilton and his First Bank of the U.S. to suck it, and started his own fucking bank – Chase Manhattan – because he was that fucking badass.

Hamilton started talking shit about Burr at a dinner, so Burr challenged the shit-talker to a duel.  Hamilton even tried to rig his own pistol to give himself an advantage.  Boy, did that backfire.

Burr shot the little bitch down and never had to deal with that bullshitter ever again.

After that he tried to start a war with Spain and annex some Western territories for his kingdom.  When Jefferson found out, he got pissed because Burr was starting to become more of a badass than he was.  He trumped up charges of treason, but Burr was acquitted because no one could prove that he was less of a badass than Jefferson.

Aaron Burr – A man of few words.  Aaron Burr – The King of America.

The Freewheelin’ Wheels

If Brian Wilson had started the Beach Boys in 1930’s Kentucky, they would have sounded like Wheels.  The Yellow Springs folk prodigies possess a maturity and depth far beyond their years.   No band member is older than 16.  They sing songs of love lost and nostalgic ballads for sweet home Ohio.  Hearing them, you’d think they’d been playing bluegrass their whole lives.  But they just picked up their instruments a year ago – and only met each other when they tried to sing for spare change on the same Yellow Springs street corners. Rail-thin mandolinist Sam Salazar defines the group’s sound with his soaring, angelic tenor.  He looks like a folk-rock Pete Doherty.  Guitarist Rory Papania chimes in with his brooding baritone to harmonize with Salazar.  Multi-instrumentalist Jamie Scott lends his intense vocals along with an immaculate sense of timing on drums and harmonica.  Sam Crawford plucks the upright bass as if he was born with one in his hands.  Something in the Yellow Springs water supply must account for the mind-boggling array of talent from this little town.  Wheels are a band of old souls – other bands drown years of sorrow in a whiskey bottle to achieve a similar sound – yet no member of Wheels is even old enough to drink.  The band is set to play at Canal Street Tavern on Sunday, May 29 to celebrate the release of their new album, Fields on Fire.

Dubstep is the Downfall of Civilization

If you listen to dubstep in your headphones walking to class, or in your car on your way to work – you are retarded.

This artless form of “music” has no discernible melody, nonsensical lyrics stolen from other songs, and a constantly shifting beat that creates an atmosphere of terse anxiety.

Dubstep is cold and metallic.  Soulless.

Music should uplift.  It should be memorable.  A great song is a sing-along song.  Great music, like great art or great writing – conveys emotion.

The only emotion I’ve ever felt while listening to dubstep is disgust.  Disgust at the kiddies who stay up all night on Molly and Nitrous Oxide and in the morning tell themselves that they like dubstep.  No, retard, dubstep only sounded good to you last night because you fucked with your serotonin levels so much that you got confused as to what is pain and what is pleasure. Dubstep is pain.

The whole subculture, with it’s use of truly mind-altering drugs such as MDMA – is creating a generation of soulless freaks.  Freaks who care about nothing more than getting their next hit of Molly and feeling the basslines pound through their serotonin-deprived skulls.  While there is no doubt that music can sound better on drugs – the key to good music is it hits you even when you’re sober.

Some said disco was the end.  That rock’n’roll, the great redeemer of so many souls, would die and fade away.  It was actually disco that faded away.  And the same will someday be true of dubstep.  Rock transcends.  While it has it’s ups and downs, the emotional power of rock is what keeps people coming back.  Dubstep has its time and its place.  Rock’n’roll is eternal.

Dubstep is the new disco.  It’s actually worse – at least disco had a few memorable songs.  All I can remember from any dubstep song is “WOOOOMP-WOOOOOMP wikiwikiwiki.”

Disco came at a time when the economy was in recession, gas prices were high, and the general mood of the country was negative.  Dubstep comes amid a recession, with high gas prices, and a general climate of negativity.

Rock’n’roll is best enjoyed with a few beers or some grass.  It can illuminate your reality if you eat some mushrooms.

Disco is commonly paired with coke.  Dubstep is commonly paired with a pill of unknown purity and substance.  I understand that people want to escape, to go on a vacation in their mind.  They want to sit in front of the TV and vegetate.  They want to listen to dubstep and eat Molly and vegetate.

Well fuck them – no vacations.

Guess what – they want you to sit in front of your TV.  They want you to rot your brain to a pulp with Molly.  They want to hook kids on amphetamines for life.  They want you to take their pills when you feel sad, or anxious, or lonely – or any other emotion that our fucked up system causes you to feel.

Fuck that.

Get off your ass and rock’n’roll.  Get out of your cage and rock’n’roll.  Rock’n’roll means creative destruction.  Rock’n’roll means the liberation of the individual.  Rock’n’roll is American.

Rock’n’roll shook a nation’s foundations once, and revolution seemed possible.

Do you believe in rock’n’roll?

Jasper the Colossal Go Acoustic

The all-female punk outfit Jasper the Colossal are set to play an acoustic show with Kelley Deal’s new band, R.Ring at South Park Tavern on Tuesday, April 26.  Jasper’s live show is usually a brutal concoction of ska-singed punk.  Loud as hell.  When they unplugged for a warm-up session last week, their ferocity transformed into a raw, acoustic expression of their punk spirit.  Paige Beller, the group’s singer, has a voice that rasps and rages and then retreats to reveal a whispery-thin vulnerability.  Guitarist Moriah Yux brings brightness to the rhythm section that provides a splendid contrast to Beller’s self-deprecating style and crowd banter.  Bassist Nicki Brooks and drummer Sarah Kouse make the low-end slam with punk tightness.  On songs such as “Liar, Liar Pants On…Whoa,” the band’s versatility shines through with a tender, subtle femininity uncommon to the genre.  Jasper cite Kelley Deal as a major influence on their music, and describe themselves as “stoked” to play with her.  The concert is Deal’s last in her April residency at South Park Tavern.  Tickets are $5 at the door.

Her Eyes Are A Thunderous Storm

her eyes are a thunderous storm

they make brave men fear and tyrants squirm

when they rain there is no sunshine

an empire of your own design

she will crumble and send off to decline

her spirit you cannot confine

her grace, divine

her face, sublime

perhaps our souls might intertwine

when the gathering clouds swarm

in her eyes, the thunderous storm